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On the common cold

What acute disease is the most common in the US? What disease causes more absences from school or work than any another? Could this illness be pneumonia, a heart attack, or a stroke?

No, the illness I am referring to is the common cold.

Americans spend approximately $750 million a year in over the counter medications to try to relieve the symptoms of the cold.

A cold is caused by a virus or allergies. There is no cure for the common cold, only symptomatic relief. The most common viruses that cause a cold are Rhinoviruses. “Rhino” means nose. Therefore, the term rhinovirus means viruses that affect the nose.

Rhinovirus has 89 different strands. This is why there has been no cure, no vaccine and why you may catch a cold more than one time a year. On average, adults catch a cold two to four times a year, whereas children have six to eight a year.

Notice the term “catch” above. This term is used because the most common means of spreading the virus is from hand to hand contact. Transmission of the virus through the air can also occur through coughing and sneezing.

Symptoms of the cold are runny nose, sneezing, sore throat, fatigue, hoarseness, fever and red eyes. These symptoms reach their greatest intensity usually by day three of onset. Colds generally last about one week but may last up to two weeks.

Similar to other viruses, the cold may cause secondary bacterial infections. Infections such as sinusitis, pneumonia, bronchitis and ear infections may occur as a result of having a common cold. If any of the cold symptoms mentioned above worsen or if you feel that you may have a secondary infection, you should consult your physician.

The cold virus is a self-limiting illness. However, the secondary infections of the cold may need additional treatment.

Symptomatic relief of the cold is the most important treatment. Tylenol or Ibuprofen may be used to reduce fever and help alleviate weakness and fatigue. Chicken noodle soup or warm liquids may help clear the nasal mucosa. Nose sprays help in decreasing nasal congestion. Oral decongestants assist in decreasing mucus and nasal congestion. However, these can also be dangerous for some patients. Always consult a physician before the use of these medicines.

As always, prevention is the best treatment for the common cold. Proper hand washing will reduce the risk of catching a cold dramatically. Reducing exposure to people who have colds will obviously cut your risks down.

Consult your physician if the nasal discharge lasts for more than one week, if you develop ear or sinus pain, if your throat becomes quite sore, if you have colored or thickened nasal drainage, if you have fever for more than three days, or if you feel very sick. These may be signs of a bacterial infection.

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